Woman smiles at her teacher on a laptop screen before an online fitness class

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Dance classes through the screen

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Sanjoy Roy
Springback experiences of what works (or doesn’t) as online class participants

It can be really hard to take dance classes when your ‘studio’ is your sitting room, bedroom, kitchen or (lucky you) garden. Some people stop physical classes altogether, others turn to those that focus on conditioning and fitness. Yet there are many online dance classes, and more and more participants are learning that geography has become, well, history: nowadays, time zone seems more of a limit than geolocation.

We asked our Springback contributors about their experiences of online dance classes, and what works (or doesn’t) through the medium of the screen. Below is a selection of their responses.

Go Gaga
Alfredo Miralles

A sure-fire hit among lockdown dance classes has been Batsheva’s ‘Gaga Online’: more than 14,000 participants and 200,000 euros collected to support the teachers (with no other income at that time). Its success was not due to solidarity or to the nonexistence of geographical boundaries, but to the dance language itself. Ohad Naharin created his Gaga technique in the early 2000s, and it turned out to be the perfect match for online sessions.

In these classes all the instructions are oral, so participants don’t have to look to the screen all the time to follow the dynamics. It’s possible to listen, eyes closed, and dance through the images to wake up our body awareness and connect with our own movement from the sensation, not the shape. This allows everyone to attend these classes. Some lessons are even designed to be taken sitting in a chair. No experience or space requirements, just imagination.

gagapeople.com/en/ongoing-classes/

Right Hooks
Kosta Karakashyan

Galen Hooks is among the world’s most prolific commercial choreographers, with credits including Justin Bieber, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Usher, Ne-Yo and John Legend. Her online classes offer dancers of all levels a rare professional glimpse into the hard-earned skillset that makes for dancers who can perform with rigour and consistency across different situations and styles.

The classes are of two types: choreography routines optimised for exploring your personal approach, and thematic lectures such as ‘How to Retain Choreography’ and ‘How to Use Your Face’. Instead of just teaching movement, Hooks offers specific strategies for more embodied learning, connecting emotion to performance and monitoring when our thoughts get in the way. While her choreography challenges you with specific details and precise timing, it still holds space to fill in with your own lived experiences. This type of nuanced learning and experimenting is perfect for the intimate setting that online classes offer.

galenhooks.com/ghm-digital
youtube.com/watch?v=UCSWc3xP8d4

Take the floor
Stella Mastorosteriou

I first discovered Mathilde Gilhet on Instagram, where she shares daily videos showcasing her distinct floorwork moves with quirky names, like The Bionic Jellyfish and Butt Wiggling Pounce. In her online floorwork/contemporary dance class she gives detailed tutorials of some of those moves and frames them into longer dance sequences. The class is lots of fun, thoroughly technical, high energy and low cost. Although the class does not happen on a regular basis and is attended by hundreds worldwide each time, Gilhet manages to create a sense of community and continuity through Instagram, where she reposts daily stories by class participants trying out her tricks. There is another notable aspect of the WE class: All proceedings from each class go towards funding an artistic project by an emerging mover, selected through an open call.

we-program.com/
instagram.com/mathildegilhet/


Dancer Mathilde Gilhet in a corkscrew position on the floor
Mathilde Gilhet. Photo © Arthur Häberli

Missing the loops
Róisín O’Brien

Spinal roll downs. Floor warm up. Pliés. A longer final sequence. Belongings pushed to one side, the teacher faces us from their living room (or hallway?) and leads a release-based class for DanceBase in Edinburgh. The focus is on teaching steps rather than improvising. Although improvisation – inherently adaptive, consciously reconnective with the body – makes sense in our home ‘studios’, this challenge draws me in. And wow, did I struggle. A year away from a studio has no doubt dulled my ability to keep up, but there are also some feedback loops missing. Each sequence is created for a small space, yet I continue to mark them, and so cut down on those information-rich signals within the body that leap from extremities to the centre and back again. There is less pressure to be present and attuned – so, I am less present and attuned. Embodied knowledge feels acutely three-dimensional, less a string of instructions or visual cues, but a morphing, breathing thing, hovering at the edge of my laptop screen.

Space barre
Suzanne Frost

Every time they lock us up, I find myself back at the ballet barre. There’s something just so instantly stress-relieving about doing that old adage. After trying this and that online, I settled into Norwegian National Ballet’s streamed classes on Facebook. For an ex-professional, it can be hard to determine your level: the body is obviously not doing what it used to any more, yet you still want enough pace and challenge not to get bored. I like the no-nonsense Scandinavian calm of Jahn Magnus Johansen, the fabulous light-flooded studios in Oslo, and most of all Joey McNamara on the piano never failing to lift me up with his arrangements of Elton John or Lady Gaga. It’s gentle on the old bones and big on boosting endorphins. I bow out after the barre – allegro is for those without downstairs neighbours…

facebook.com/groups/837489283392085//

Coffee morning
Anna Kaszuba

MOVE IT! This might sound a little dictatorial for a 9 am pre-coffee start, but Keir Patrick’s approach to movement is more ‘gentle motivation’ than ‘military operation’. Two mornings a week, Patrick invites anybody who’s feeling the stultifying effects of lockdowns to stretch and strengthen using sequences inspired by pilates, yoga and dance. The mindful, physical inventory wakes up my entire body in a space no bigger than a yoga mat, while Patrick’s lightness, humour and clarity of instruction allows me to turn my attention to sensation rather than the screen. From rolling out of bed to rolling my ankles, my commute to feeling energised for the day feels like teleportation. Hmmm, perhaps I won’t be needing that morning coffee after all…


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Young woman lying on yoga mat looking at her laptop
Photo © Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Guilty secret
Lydia Wharf

Guilty secret: for the past few years I have attended Zumba classes; first in a local village hall and more recently in my living room. As a dance form, Zumba isn’t even ‘a thing’: it’s a kind of aerobics via South America (but not a direct flight), it’s a trademark, a musical mishmash, it flogs ‘merch’ and instructor courses. My class attracts an all-female group of enthusiasts in lycra leisurewear, with the collective aim of losing weight and throwing vigorous shapes. And oh, how we love it! This form of dance somehow simultaneously engages retired octogenarian Gladys, two teenagers who always request a grime track at the end, and me, the contemporary dance snob. We laugh, we sweat, we accidentally unmute, we dance together and it feels so good. During lockdown it’s a lifeline, connecting me to a range of people I no longer see or share space with. The delivery is different, but the ‘Latin vibes’ live on.

Bring a friend
Rachel Burke

I’ve signed up. I’ve logged on. I’ve pliéd at my fireplace. Stuck to my kitchen lino trying to tap. Discovered I’m a haphazard vacuumer, mid intense spinal roll. Felt the harsh boundary of a downward dog when all I really wanted was a bit of wild freedom. As the months have worn on, my interest in any online offering has well and truly worn off. I’ve realised the best thing I can do is just close the screen and not feel bad about it. Instead, I have moved IRL in ways that feel right, for now, and found a few rarely visited spaces within myself along the way.

One thing I have learned: if you must do an online class, bring a friend along. Share an awkward glance across the screen and giggle together afterwards about your rusty movement recall. Anything to find that moment of connection and magic that I so desperately miss from live dance!


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